Did I just use the words ‘easy’ and ‘Nihari’ in the same title?
Yes, I went there.
I like to take advantage of modern day amenities without compromising on taste. I want the authentic stuff you get at restaurants on trips to Chicago’s Sabri Nihari or even Lahore’s Waris Nihari House. Yet I don’t want to spend my entire day making it happen. Speaking of day, the word “nihari” comes from the root Arabic word “nahar”, meaning “day”. This dish is called Nihari because 18th century Mughals ate it at daybreak. (My theory is that the servants begrudgingly named it Nihari because it took them the entire day to prepare it.)
Did you notice Nihari is a dish that has restaurants named after it? That means it’s kind of a big deal.
Don’t be intimidated though. I sure was. That’s why it took me three years to even attempt it. But once I made it, I cursed my former self for waiting so long.
Here is what I would tell my former, nihari-noob self to help her take on this intimidating but actually quite painless endeavor:
- Nihari is all about the spices. Get your hands on as many of them as you can; and if you leave some out, that’s okay too. It will still taste great.
- Many people use the Nihari masala powder that you can find at most Indian/Pakistani stores to prepare this dish because (as mentioned in my first point) it demands so many spices. Use too much of the powder (like the whole packet as the box suggests) and you’ll end up having Nihari that tastes a bit manufactured and a lot like your fellow Pakistani neighbor’s Nihari because they used the same powder. Use just a bit and it’ll give your dish an extra oomph and good color. If you choose not to use it, just adjust the rest of the spices listed.
- Traditionally, atta flour (typically used to make rotis) is added to thicken the curry. You may also substitute it with 2-3 tbsp of corn flour or whole wheat flour, but it will taste much more authentic if atta is used.
- Try to use good quality beef. The more marbled-looking it is, the better. You’re slow cooking it to infuse the meat with the spices while getting it as tender as possible.
- Don’t forget the garnishings. Chop up some lemons, ginger, cilantro and green chillies. They bejewel your Nihari while enhancing the spicy, tangy and crunchy factor.
Being of Pakistani origin, I can't let my ancestors down and let this chilly season pass without a taste of Nihari. This easy slow cooker recipe is quick to prepare but does not compromise on the authentic taste and layers of flavor that are synonymous with this traditional, soul-satisfying dish.
- 1 star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 2-3 cloves, ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 2-3 green cardamom seeds, ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, ground into a powder using a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp Asian red chilli powder or cayenne
- 1/4 tsp crushed red chilli pepper
- 1/4 tsp black pepper powder
- pinch nutmeg (optional)
- 1/2 tbsp Nihari Shan masala *
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 5-6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 inch piece ginger, crushed
- salt, to taste
- 1/4 cup atta flour such as this one **
- 1/3 cup oil
- 4-5 cups water
- 1 lb beef stew pieces - about 1 1/2 inch cubed
- crispy fried onions
- 1 inch piece ginger, julienned
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1-2 green chillies, chopped
- Heat oil over medium heat and add the whole spices.
- Add onion and sauté until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to sauté until the raw smell disappears, about 15-20 seconds.
- Add beef and stir-fry for about 5 minutes or until it changes color.
- Lower the heat and add the powdered spices and salt and sauté for about 20 seconds.
- Carefully pour this beef mixture into your Crockpot or slow cooker.
- Add the water and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or until the beef is very tender.
- Toward the end of your cooking time, take out about a 1/3 cup of the liquid of the Nihari into a bowl and mix in the atta to form a smooth and thick paste. Add this paste into crockpot and let it cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the whole spices. Serve hot with the garnishing and naan.
*If you do not add this, adjust the quantity of the other spices per taste.
**Traditionally, atta is used to thicken the curry; you may also use 2-3 tbsp of corn flour or regular whole wheat flour.